Bradford Factor Score Explained

4th November 2014

Absence is an issue that all human resources departments have to pay attention to. It can play a part in deciding how productive and motivated individual employees are, which in turn can influence promotion or disciplinary proceedings. However it can also be a guide to the state of staff morale and can be an early indicator of occupational stress or strain.

At best, it will trigger some sort of communication with an employee to determine if there are any underlying problems with which the employer can offer assistance. There could be a sick relative to care for who is causing sleep deprivation; the employee could have drug or alcohol issues; or they might simply be living “the good life” and having one too many drinks the night before calling in sick. Whatever the cause, catching it early can work wonders for employer and employee alike.

Wider Implications

Unplanned absence can have a severe effect on the productivity of a company as a whole. Some employees are key to the day-to-day running of a company, and others rely on them to give instruction or to supply components on a production line, for example. While planned holidays can (and indeed must be) be catered for, sickness can throw a spanner in the works.

Sickness is inevitable in any company, and it’s a rare employee who doesn’t take at least one day off sick in a year. But all absences are not equal. During the 1980s, a research team at Bradford University School of Management came up with the theory that it was not the number of days lost to unplanned absence that was the issue, but the frequency with which it occurred. In other words, someone taking two weeks off was not as detrimental as the same person taking ten single days off spread over a year.

The team ended up with a calculation to determine the impact of an employee’s absence(s), which became known as the Bradford Factor after the institution.

The calculation is simple:

B = S2 × D

B = the Bradford Factor
S = the number of absences in the period measured
D = the number of days in total over the period

The first thing that becomes apparent is that S is squared, which marks out the number of absences as the most significant factor in the score. If there was only one period of absence, S would be 1; two periods would make it 4; three periods would make it 9; the sequence continues 16, 25, 36, 49 and so on.

Interpreting the Results

Once these are multiplied by the number of days off, the score can become quite high. However it is up to individual employers to discern which scores trigger what actions.

If certain individuals reach high scores, there could be a need for an interview, warning or assessment of that individual’s performance.

If the score is company-wide, it could signal a systemic issue with the company – working too many hours, not having enough holidays or imposing difficult shift patterns, for examples. There could simply be a lack of motivation among staff, too. Some industries have high turnovers of staff, and jobs that are unskilled will often attract employees who have nothing to lose by forfeiting their jobs as they could probably walk into a similar job elsewhere with relative ease thanks to the churn of employees. Such problems can only be tackled from within – some call centres, for example, offer a “bonus” for turning at work or arrange staff into teams to let peer pressure act as encouragement.

In general, the companies worst affected by multiple absences are those that work to tight deadlines, be they externally imposed (say a creative agency) or internally (say a production line).

Clearly the size of the company matters too. A large manufacturer with twenty people on one specific component would be able to absorb planned and unplanned absence relatively easily. But if you’re a cottage industry hand-crafting mugs and the person who makes the handles is regularly off without warning, it’s easy to see how production issues could suffer – mugs can’t be glazed or fired until the handles are attached, and staff might need to be taken off the potter’s wheels or other parts of the process to make some handles. In such a case, it would be important for the handle-maker to be told about the effect they were having on production and for a solution to be found to get their absence down to normal levels or to face discipline or dismissal proceedings.

That said, the mug maker wouldn’t really need a Bradford Factor to tell them there was an issue – it would be plain to see. The only reason the company might calculate one would be to prove they were being consistent in their discipline and to quantify the effect of the absences.

For the larger company, however, the calculation could be a useful tool in identifying individuals who could be affecting team productivity in a way that could easily be camouflaged by the normal absences experienced by a busy department.

If you’re unfamiliar with the system, why not set up a simple spreadsheet to perform Bradford Factor calculations on all your staff? You might come up with some surprising results – and improve your output as a result.

Potential Problems

Whenever performing such calculations, it’s important not to take the figures in isolation. It is not a crime to be ill, and although it is a factor in a person’s employability, it’s crucial that you don’t infringe on people’s human rights. Some employees might have a disability that leads to sudden absences, and dismissing such people for that reason could land you in court. Similarly, firing people who are taking stress-related days off could backfire if they can prove that you were the cause of the stress.
But as a first step, the Bradford Factor is a useful calculation to perform.